‘How technology disrupted the truth’ is the headline on Kath Viner’s fascinating long read piece for The Guardian which has been getting attention, shares and even readers this week.
But for all its interesting analysis of the impact of social media on the business models for media outlets, it also falls into a classic and widespread mistake when it comes to analysing the impact of technology. That is, to limit the frame of reference to the period since the technology arrived rather than to put it into a longer-term perspective.For the long-term perspective is that there has never been a media golden age where facts ruled supreme and people formed opinions based on those facts (hello, Liarsville, Alaska). Technology hasn’t given us a new post-facts world for people have always had a shaky relationship with facts when forming their views.
That’s why for centuries so many people thought sexism, racism and even homophobia was a fact-based approach to the world. Long before the internet existed, or even electricity, there were examples aplenty of people disregarding the truth in favour of a twisted subsection of misleading information which they claimed as a good reason for believing that women are inferior to men, blacks inferior to whites and gays inferior to straight people.
The broader lesson from all this? If you want to understand the impact of technology, remember to look back to how the world was before it was around, and beware donning tinted glasses when you.